Updated: Jan 19
The leading cause of death in America isn’t cancer or HIV, it is heart disease. Every year, cardiovascular conditions claim an estimated 630,000 lives across the country. By 2035, almost half of the country’s population will be affected by at least one symptom of these illnesses. In the face of these rapidly rising figures, healthcare providers from all over the world are looking beyond treatment options to find some way of stemming the heart disease epidemic at its source.
While this research has turned up a number of commonly identified factors such as obesity and alcoholism, recent data has turned up a surprising new contributor, oral health.
How Does Oral Health Connect to Heart Disease?
Although studies are yet to establish a clear correlation between poor dental hygiene and heart disease there are a number of processes through which these two seemingly disparate systems can be connected.
In diseases such as gingivitis and periodontitis, bacterial infections infiltrate the gum tissue and surrounding bone matter of the mouth, and cause these supporting structures to erode slowly over time. As the gumline recedes, bacteria can slip beneath the gaps and actually enter into the bloodstream. Over time, the build-up of plaque in the arteries can lead to a potentially fatal condition known as atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis is basically a process, in which blood vessels become increasingly constricted which makes it more difficult for oxygen and from reaching the heart and other critical areas of the body.
This theory is supported by the fact that autopsies of heart disease victims show evidence of oral bacteria in blood vessels that are a long way from the mouth. Meanwhile, related studies show that patients with symptoms of gum disease are more likely to have heart conditions as well.
The Inflammatory Response
Inflammation is a commonly cited symptom of poor oral health that translates directly to heart disease. Streptococcus gordonii is a strain of oral bacteria that is most commonly found in plaque. Anytime your gums begin to bleed, this substance is able to find its way into the bloodstream. That’s where the trouble begins.
Streptococcus gordonii bears a close resemblance to a naturally occurring protein known as fibrinogen. Fibrinogen is essentially a signaling device to the immune system; its presence indicates that a certain area of the body needs to be clotted to prevent infection. When this clotting mechanism is initiated in the bloodstream and especially the valves of the heart, it can prevent these critical components from functioning properly. This can trigger a condition called endocarditis.
Heightening Other Risk Factors
While many scientists are yet to acknowledge the developing research, most people in the medical community accept that oral health is a strong indicator of overall health. Individuals that report poor oral health, also tend to report a number of other risk factors for heart disease such as obesity, smoking
Visit your local dentist at i2m Dental to learn more.